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12.41 pm

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North) (Lab): I rise to oppose the Bill, based on my experiences as a practising Catholic, as someone who was taught by the Irish Christian Brothers—I shall take those stigmata to my grave—and as a former teacher in a Catholic school, where I am now a governor. As a Member of Parliament for the past 38 years, I have witnessed numerous examples of faith schools' commitment and dedication to the achievement of excellence, both in school and in the wider community.

I feel it necessary to express my opposition to this Bill as it aims to undermine one of the longest established traditions in our education system—that children should be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents, as far as is compatible with the effective and efficient use of resources. I believe that the attack on faith schools, which have gained a reputation for high educational standards, should be disregarded. The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) is seeking to disown the view that respect and tolerance of different religious beliefs are essential for positive community cohesion.

In introducing this Bill, the hon. Gentleman shows that he is clearly not interested in school standards. He is not even interested in the fact that many parents want the choice to send their children to a faith school, be it Catholic, Church of England, other Christian denomination, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or Sikh. However, his true intentions are uncovered in his association with the National Secular Society. His ultimate goal is to impose secular dogma on all children, regardless of the wishes of their parents. He camouflages his main objective in this Bill, knowing full well the profound implications that it would have on faith schools.

My first concern surrounds the assault on human rights mounted by the hon. Gentleman. We live in a multicultural, multi-faith society, and yet the hon. Gentleman is attempting to restrict the general principle that children should be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents. That is guaranteed in the protocol to the European convention on human rights and in legislation passed by this House. Furthermore, he intends to restrict the right to a religious education that is enshrined in the UN universal declaration of human rights and the declaration of the rights of the child. These instruments outline the concepts that parents are, first and foremost, educators of their children, and that the state should be a facilitator to ensure that all children, as far as is practical, can be educated in line with their parents' religious and philosophical convictions.

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I find it surprising that a Liberal should wish to take away such rights. It is often stated that faith schools are exclusive—a view also held by the Liberal Democrat spokesman on education, the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis). He has stated his belief that faith schools

However, if he were to look at the findings of the Catholic education service census of 2003 he would see that 18 per cent.—nearly one in five—of pupils attending Catholic schools are non-Catholics. Is that what Liberal Democrats mean when they label faith schools exclusive and talk about faith tests?

By basing the Bill on the false premise of exclusivity, the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon denies the rights of many non-Catholic or non-Christian parents, or parents of other faiths, who want to send their children to Catholic or other faith schools because they are attracted to the robust spiritual and moral value systems of such schools. He would undermine schools that take a proactive approach to inclusiveness and respect for religious beliefs. To see that, we have only to study the findings of a recent survey of ethnic minority students in Catholic secondary schools, which highlighted the fact that 80 per cent. of them believe that their schools encourage respect for people of different races and religions.

The guidance of my Church shows a desire for inclusion and a respect for diversity. Catholic secondary schools have a higher percentage of black pupils than other maintained schools. If the hon. Gentleman were to read the bishops' document, "Catholic Schools and Other Faiths", he would see that it highlights the need both to respect other faiths and have an understanding between the Catholic faith and other faiths. All other faith schools uphold the same philosophy in relation to their beliefs and understandings.

My second concern is about educational standards. The Bill would do nothing to improve educational achievement in our schools; its only achievement would be to unpick one of the most successful aspects of our education system—faith schools, which have gained a reputation for high standards and educational achievement. I should have thought that all Members would applaud that, rather than seeking to destroy it.

The available evidence shows that, in general, attainment in Catholic schools is higher compared with other sectors. Furthermore, despite accusations about selection, Catholic schools cater for pupils with greater levels of poverty. An analysis of GCSE results from 1966 to 2001 for both 11–18 schools and 11–16 schools found that, for nearly all levels of disadvantage, Catholic schools had a higher percentage of pupils achieving the required standard in each year. When something is successful we should support it and expand best practice, not attack it.

My third concern is centred on the opportunism of the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon in trying to exploit today's uncertain world climate. He is jealously pursuing his own secular agenda by trying to divorce the teachings of different religions from our society. By doing so, he risks creating the exclusion and alienation of certain communities that he claims to be trying to prevent.

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It is easy to place the blame for horrific incidents such as 11 September, the disgraceful incidents around Holy Cross primary school and the racially motivated violence in some of our northern towns at the door of religion. To do so is a mistake, however. Such events are born of ignorance, prejudice, poverty and fear of the unknown, not of religion. If we take the route advocated by the hon. Gentleman, it can only increase prejudice and bigotry.

The UK is rich in diversity—from which our society has significantly benefited. The 2001 census found that 77 per cent. of people belonged to a religion, so it is right for the state to act as a facilitator to enable everyone to live out their religious beliefs in public as well as in private. Faith schools are based on the value of universal respect. Despite the claims made about their contribution to segregation, there is no evidence to support the view that they contribute to social segregation in this country.

In the teaching of my own and other religions, we talk of loving strangers and of loving our neighbour as ourselves. Such values are at the heart of Christian teaching and of faith schools, Muslim schools and Jewish schools. The Catholic bishops stated in the document, "Catholic Schools and Other Faiths", that Catholic schools

That attitude is shared by other faith schools.

Inter-faith relations have progressed over the past few years, and we must continue that journey. Faith-based education and schools have an important role in eliminating the stereotyping, prejudice and bigotry that exists in our society. Faith schools are not isolated institutions—they are part of our communities. They are part of the solution, not the problem. We must make further progress with inter-faith relations, both locally and nationally, not exclude them as the hon. Gentleman seeks to do.

The introduction of the Bill is purely opportunistic. It is not difficult to establish the hon. Gentleman's true motive for introducing it. Indeed, he admitted it himself. It has nothing to do with improving educational standards—it is an attack on the rights of those who wish to lead their lives in accordance with a particular religious belief. It is a case based on a list of inaccuracies. It is an attempt to deny parents the right to decide what is best for their children. It is an attempt that, I hope, the House will reject.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 23 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):—

The House divided: Ayes 33, Noes 157.

Division No. 58
[12.50 pm


Barnes, Harry
Berry, Roger
Blunt, Crispin
Carmichael, Alistair
Challen, Colin
Chaytor, David
Corbyn, Jeremy
Cryer, Ann (Keighley)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
David, Wayne
Davidson, Ian
Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley E)
Gibson, Dr. Ian
Hancock, Mike
Harris, Dr. Evan (Oxford W & Abingdon)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury & Atcham)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Price, Adam (E Carmarthen & Dinefwr)
Reid, Alan (Argyll & Bute)
Rendel, David
Sanders, Adrian
Sawford, Phil
Sedgemore, Brian
Sheerman, Barry
Skinner, Dennis
Steinberg, Gerry
Taylor, Dr. Richard (Wyre F)
Tonge, Dr. Jenny
Trimble, rh David
Tyler, Paul (N Cornwall)
Williams, Roger (Brecon)

Tellers for the Ayes:

Malcolm Bruce and
Paul Holmes


Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)
Amess, David
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Bacon, Richard
Barker, Gregory
Beard, Nigel
Beggs, Roy (E Antrim)
Beith, rh A. J.
Bell, Sir Stuart
Benton, Joe (Bootle)
Bercow, John
Best, Harold
Boswell, Tim
Bottomley, rh Virginia (SW Surrey)
Brady, Graham
Brazier, Julian
Breed, Colin
Burnham, Andy
Burns, Simon
Burstow, Paul
Calton, Mrs Patsy
Cameron, David
Cash, William
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)
Chope, Christopher
Clappison, James
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Cohen, Harry
Collins, Tim
Colman, Tony
Conway, Derek
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Cotter, Brian
Crausby, David
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Davis, rh David (Haltemprice & Howden)
Dismore, Andrew
Djanogly, Jonathan
Doughty, Sue
Duncan, Alan (Rutland)
Evans, Nigel
Fallon, Michael
Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna
Flook, Adrian
Flynn, Paul (Newport W)
Forth, rh Eric
Foster, Don (Bath)
Francois, Mark
Gale, Roger (N Thanet)
Gapes, Mike (Ilford S)
Garnier, Edward
Gerrard, Neil
Gibb, Nick (Bognor Regis)
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Grayling, Chris
Green, Matthew (Ludlow)
Grieve, Dominic
Harvey, Nick
Hawkins, Nick
Hayes, John (S Holland)
Heath, David
Hermon, Lady
Hoban, Mark (Fareham)
Hogg, rh Douglas
Hood, Jimmy (Clydesdale)
Howard, rh Michael
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Hoyle, Lindsay
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Jenkins, Brian
Johnson, Boris (Henley)
Jones, Kevan (N Durham)
Kaufman, rh Gerald
Keetch, Paul
Key, Robert (Salisbury)
Kilfoyle, Peter
King, Andy (Rugby)
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Knight, rh Greg (E Yorkshire)
Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Lawrence, Mrs Jackie
Laws, David (Yeovil)
Leigh, Edward
Lewis, Dr. Julian (New Forest E)
Liddell-Grainger, Ian
Lidington, David
Lilley, rh Peter
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Llwyd, Elfyn
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter (M-Worcs)
McFall, John
McIntosh, Miss Anne
McIsaac, Shona
Mackay, rh Andrew
McLoughlin, Patrick
McNamara, Kevin
McWalter, Tony
Malins, Humfrey
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Mawhinney, rh Sir Brian
May, Mrs Theresa
Meale, Alan (Mansfield)
Mercer, Patrick
Mitchell, Andrew (Sutton Coldfield)
Oaten, Mark (Winchester)
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Olner, Bill
Osborne, George (Tatton)
Ottaway, Richard
Paice, James
Paterson, Owen
Pickles, Eric
Pollard, Kerry
Pound, Stephen
Prisk, Mark (Hertford)
Pugh, Dr. John
Rapson, Syd (Portsmouth N)
Redwood, rh John
Robertson, Hugh (Faversham & M-Kent)
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Roe, Mrs Marion
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Selous, Andrew
Sheerman, Barry
Shephard, rh Mrs Gillian
Simmonds, Mark
Simon, Siôn (B'ham Erdington)
Simpson, Keith (M-Norfolk)
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns & Kincardine)
Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Spink, Bob (Castle Point)
Spring, Richard
Streeter, Gary
Stunell, Andrew
Swayne, Desmond
Swire, Hugo (E Devon)
Syms, Robert
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Tyrie, Andrew
Vaz, Keith (Leicester E)
Viggers, Peter
Vis, Dr. Rudi
Webb, Steve (Northavon)
Whittingdale, John
Wiggin, Bill
Wilkinson, John
Williams, Hywel (Caernarfon)
Willis, Phil
Wilshire, David
Winterton, Ann (Congleton)
Young, rh Sir George

Tellers for the Noes:

Jim Dobbin and
Mr. Ronnie Campbell

Question accordingly negatived.

25 Feb 2004 : Column 291

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